Childhood is a privilege.
I\’ve worked with many kids throughout my life whether in social work, education, nanny, etc., and I\’ve seen many different approaches and understandings about childhood. There usually seemed to be this struggle between allowing for curiosity, playfulness, and mistakes versus preparing children for the realities of the world, society, and life.
While some children are allowed to be curious, explore the world, have new experiences, have a range of emotions—some children are taught that curiosity, new experiences, and expressing all of your emotions are frowned upon and even dangerous. So, I started to wonder, who is allowed to participate in the joys of childhood? Why can’t all children have the opportunity to just be children? As a parent, my boys, nieces, and nephews who spend time with me enjoy the privilege of laughing, running, playing in the dirt, crying, being angry, making art and science experiment messes, and all kinds of other childhood experiences. Is it because I\’m a big kid at heart? Maybe! But I also know that there is some level of risk in allowing my 3 black boys to be “kids.”
Who knew allowing my boys to be children would also be a social justice issue? Who knew that in addition to all the decisions in parenting that I would also have to decide whether to allow my children to have emotions, have their own thoughts, express their emotions, make mistakes, be silly and have fun? Because sometimes, a carefree, curious, emotional and silly childhood is dangerous to the safety and wellbeing of children, especially black children.
For example, imagine a little boy, who is about 7 years old. He starts his day and does his normal routine, gets dressed, brushes teeth, eats breakfast, makes bed, etc. Then, he goes outside to play—he finds a muddy spot and makes mud pies and other mud foods while Mom is nearby and he pretends to bring her food that she pretends to eat. When Mom says it is time to go inside, he is not happy and starts to cry while walking with Mom inside. After they get cleaned up, Mom and son go into a store where this little boy hears some fun music and begins to dance. Mom laughs, dances a little, and takes a picture to remember the moment.
Now, as you imagined that—what sort of child did you imagine? What did he look like? What feelings did you have while reading that? And why?
Not all children have the privilege of having these experiences where it is okay to be messy, cry about their feelings and be silly. And, it is not because their parents don\’t want them to have a fun childhood, it is because their parents have experienced that clean, quiet, and controlled children are safe children. Clean, quiet and controlled children are praised. Clean, quiet, and controlled children are accepted and valued. Unless. Unless, if you belong to the group in society where your child is seen as a child. Unless, if you belong to the group in society where your child will not be severely punished by the system for childish mistakes. Unless, if you belong to the group in society where your child\’s crying and anger won\’t be viewed as a threat.
Will I continue to take the risk of allowing my children to fully experience childhood? YES. Do I also have to prepare them and let them know that they will not always be viewed as “children” in some places? YES. While I wish more black children could enjoy being just children, I do understand parents who choose safety over childhood. I just wish that we didn\’t have to.
So, childhood is not a time that all children get to enjoy and experience—it is a privilege allowed for some and a risk for others.